Hercule Poirot is one of the most famous detectives in literary history. Yet, strangely, except for his portrayal by Albert Finney in the star-studded movie version of "Murder on the Orient Express," for a long time, there did not seem to be an actor who could convincingly bring to life the clever, dignified little Belgian with his unmistakable egg-shaped head, always perched a little on one side, his stiff, military, slightly upward-twisted moustache, and his excessively neat attire, which had reached the point that "a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet," as Agatha Christie introduced him through his friend Captain Hastings's voice in their and her own very first adventure, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" (1920). But leave it to British TV to finally find the perfect Poirot in David Suchet, who after having had the dubious honor of playing a rather dumbly arrogant version of Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Japp in some of the 1980s' movies starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot, was now finally allowed to move center stage.
And the match is spot-on, not only physically but also, and most importantly, in terms of personality. Suchet shares Poirot's inclination towards pedantry: "I like things to be symmetrical ... If I put two things on the mantelpiece, they have to be exactly evenly spaced," he once said in an interview, comparing his real-life persona to that of Poirot, but adding that unlike his on-screen alter ego, "I don't need the same sized eggs for breakfast!" Although previously not interested in mysteries, his habitually meticulous research allowed him to quickly become intimately familiar with Christie's Belgian sleuth and the workings of his little gray cells - and to slip so much into Poirot's skin that I, for one, can no longer pick up a Poirot book without instantly hearing Suchet's voice as that of the great little detective.
This collection contains feature-length dramatizations of two mysteries. As usual, Philip Jackson stars as a rather sturdy, down-to-earth incarnation of Chief Inspector Japp, Pauline Moran is Poirot's epitome of a secretary, Miss Lemon; and Hugh Fraser takes on the role of Captain Hastings, whom the screenplays, unfortunately, make come across as more of a well-educated but vacuous gentleman than do the novels narrated from his point of view, such as "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" and "Lord Edgware Dies." (And this although the same station, ITV, did so well in debumblifying Sherlock Holmes's friend and chronicler Dr. Watson!)
"The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" (1926) is one of the most remarkable entries in all of Christie's collection, not least because of its completely unexpected turntable conclusion, and (I would always have thought) darn near unfilmable because of the way it's told. This version moves the story towards the end of Poirot's career to better explain his retirement to King's Abbot, an archetypal English village like those that later became so crucial to Christie's Miss Marple mysteries (the first of which, "Muder at the Vicarage," dates from 1930). Roger Ackroyd is an industrialist, the richest man around and "more impossibly like a country squire than any country squire could really be," as village doctor James Sheppard describes him in the novel. When he is found murdered, Poirot steps out of his retirement to investigate his death - and its connection to that of Ackroyd's friend, the recently widowed Mrs. Ferrars.
In "Lord Edgware Dies" (a/k/a "Thirteen at Dinner," 1933), Poirot is asked to intervene on behalf of beautiful young actress Jane Wilkinson, Lady Edgware by marriage, who now seeks her husband's consent to a divorce. When shortly thereafter Lord Edgware is found murdered, Lady Edgware is Inspector Japp's obvious suspect. Rightly so? Poirot, somewhat dazzled by the Lady, is not sure - and unfortunately, his little gray cells do not work quickly enough to prevent a second murder, that of American actress Carlotta Adams, and even a third one, of a young playwright.